Magical Night, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London (4/5)


Of all the things you might expect from Kurt Weill, enchanted toys are low on the list.

In 1922, just six years before the Marxist sharp edges of The Threepenny Opera, Weill wrote Zaubernacht, a simple story of children watching their toys come to life. Recently rediscovered, the score is downright sweet. What brings this production to life is Aletta Collins’ staging, full of wit and invention.

Weill’s score was a success in Berlin and New York, then fell into obscurity. In 2005, a set of orchestral parts turned up in Yale University Library, allowing the restaging of the work. It’s a light, slight work, with some sinewy orchestration and a perky song for the fairy who brings the toys to life. James Holmes conducts a bright performance.

In this production, aimed at family audiences, Collins firmly updates the story. The children squabble and go to sleep in a modern bedroom, designed by Rachael Canning with bunk beds and cartoon duvet covers. The child performers are relaxed and spontaneous, whether absorbed in their games, bickering or getting involved in the adventure. Their mother, danced by Lorena Randi, is visibly exhausted, sending them back to bed again.

The toys are brilliantly characterised through body language and Gabrielle Dalton’s costumes. Thomasin Gülgeç’s monkey toy has a tuft of stuffing where his tail ought to be, and a manufacturer’s label sticking out of the seam down his back. He wriggles up out of the toy box, feet first, then clambers all over the room: up the bunk beds, over the door, down the walls.

Alessandra Ruggeri’s Tumble Tot is an unnervingly flexible baby doll, rolling along on bandy, blue babygro’d legs. Greig Cooke’s Sir Green Knight is a retro toy, swishing his sword but not quite keeping up with the modern world; Owen Ridley-DeMonck’s Might Robot strikes noble poses, while the display screen on his chest flashes greetings to Earth.

Soprano Yvette Bonner is a downright Pink Fairy, singing crisply, with movement skills to keep up with a whole cast of dancers. As the children stir in their sleep, she orders the other toys into stillness with an imperious, imploring look.

In the midst of the magic, the little girl brings her witch drawing to life, then has to help rescue her brother from the witch’s clutches. Randi makes a spiky witch, all twitching fingers and reaching limbs. She’s lulled by the charms of the Robot – who not only leads her in a couple dance, but offers neck rubs and a nice cup of tea. 

Magical Night is a gentle performance, with lots of variations on simple plot developments. Collins, her cast and creative team give it delightful freshness and warmth.